Recently I traveled to New Mexico to meet with APHIS-Wildlife Services’ personnel for a firsthand view of their Feral Swine Removal Demonstration Project that aims to eliminate feral swine from the state. Feral swine are an invasive species with a population that has grown from approximately 1 million in 17 states in the 1980s to more than 5 million across 38 states today. If left unchecked, their numbers could exceed 10 million by 2018. Feral swine carry more than 30 diseases that pose a potential threat to humans, livestock, and wildlife, and the total cost of feral swine damage to U.S. agriculture, livestock facilities, private property, and natural resources is estimated to be $1.5 billion annually.
Wildlife Services’ demonstration project is benefitting from tremendous cooperation with federal, state, tribal, and nongovernmental partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, New Mexico State Land Office, and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, as well as with the Mescalero Apache Tribe, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, New Mexico Wool Growers’ Association, affected counties and private land owners, among others.
The project is in its 6th month of operation and to date Wildlife Services has conducted feral swine work on more than 175 New Mexico properties totaling 4.1 million acres of land. Wildlife Services is using a combination of methods to find and remove feral swine, including the use of surveillance cameras, cage and corral traps, and aerial operations. The New Mexico project is intended to provide guidance and support for a national program to reduce problems associated with feral swine and where possible eliminate feral swine from targeted states.
An item of interest brought to my attention during the trip was the threat feral swine pose to the lesser prairie-chicken, a species currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Feral swine prey on adults and chicks while also damaging critical habitat. Removal of feral swine may help lesser prairie-chicken populations recover, preventing the need for federal protection and enabling ranchers to operate without additional restrictions.
In closing, I’d like to give a shout out to the Wildlife Service team in New Mexico for their hospitality and dedication to the success of this important demonstration project.